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F12008: Guest Post On Raikkonen & Massa

F12008: Guest Post On Raikkonen & Massa

F12008: Raikkonen & Massa Preview

Guest post number four, the final in this series, comes from regular commenter and La Canta Magnifico author, Alianora. A self-confessed Jordan/Midland/Spyker/Force India fan, Alianora is often seen around the online Formula One community leaving comments and contributing to conversations with her sharp eye for detail and comprehensive knowledge of the rules. As this is the last in the guest series for now, there is only one pairing left to be discussed; Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa.

Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa’s intra-team duel may prove to be the key battle of the season. For much of winter testing, Ferrari was believed to have a distinct performance advantage over its rivals. If the gap is carried over to the races, then it could well be that the fight for supremacy at Ferrari is also the fight for the driver’s championship. Thankfully, the Ferrari management have promised that one driver will not be made to submit his ambition to another at the outset.

Kimi Raikkonen

Winning the championship is said to boost a driver’s confidence like nothing else. I can think of few drivers who need such a boost less than Kimi Raikkonen. One of his gifts is that he keeps pushing even when there’s little to get excited about (as proven by 2004 and 2006 at McLaren). After gradually getting comfortable at Ferrari for the first half of the season, he won six races in the latter half of the season. A less confident driver would probably have let Felipe Massa continue to get the better results while waiting for next year.

Part of the secret of Kimi’s success last year was that he gave himself a stable platform from which to work and develop. His driving style is based on straight lines and short corners, facilitated by careful management of the mass transfer. As a result, the errors that Kimi makes tend to be less significant in terms of lap time than those Felipe makes.

Kimi does not get distracted by outside politics, so he won’t assume that McLaren will remain weak simply because of the after-effects of last year. Instead, he will concentrate on his own car’s performance, which currently looks very good.

He is good in the rain, too, securing a podium in Fuji despite Ferrari giving him (and his team-mate) the wrong tyres at the start of the race…

The traction control ban could have been written with Kimi in mind. He never leaned on the traction controlwhen it was there, so there is no reason to believe he will miss it now.

Even so, there was the first part of 2007 to consider. When Kimi was not comfortable with the Ferrari initially, he did not do as well in it as usual. The 2008 car does not look like it requires such adaptation for Kimi to enjoy it, though. As a result, it is difficult to see how Kimi will be defeated in equal equipment in 2008, unless something really strange happens.

Felipe Massa

If it hadn’t been for Felipe giving up a possible home win in Brazil, Kimi Raikkonen would not be champion today. Even though Felipe was out of the championship fight before the last round, his performance in 2007 was still good enough for Ferrari to revise its “No. 1/No. 2” philosophy.

Felipe has been gradually improving for a very long time. The quick-but-wild driver of 2002 is long gone, replaced with a more cautious and precise driver who is still good in a battle to overtake. This is also combined with good adaptation to changing circumstances (as long as those changes do not involve precipitation he’s about average when the skies open).

He can also string together a very quick single lap. He netted six pole positions and six fastest laps in 2007. To put this into perspective, only Lewis Hamilton equalled the number of poles and only Kimi Raikkonen equalled the number of fastest laps.

He has, however, been known to crumble occasionally in the face of a determined attacker. Malaysia 2007 against Lewis Hamilton demonstrated this vividly. Now that this weakness is known, expect everyone to take advantage of it.

In addition, he’s not the most consistent driver on the grid, and certainly less consistent than Kimi. His driving style may be much improved on 2002, but it is still reaction-based. As a result, Felipe is subject to slight changes in wind direction and small errors in a way that Kimi never will be.

Felipe has also made it known that he really doesn’t like the traction control ban, and has been one of the drivers to suffer most from its removal. Leaving aside any possibility of pushing the envelope of the regulations, a driver who needs traction control to perform optimally will have trouble performing to championship standard and that is the standard required to win the Ferrari battle.

Summary

Expect Felipe to have the upper hand in qualifying, but Kimi to win more points and races. Indeed, expect Kimi to have a very good shot at the title. Ferrari may even use this to their advantage, light-fuelling Felipe to wrong-foot rivals and give Kimi more breathing room to show his race pace. There is no shame in Felipe being beaten by Kimi again – he will surely learn from the experience and his ever-improving ability, combined with the security of a long-term contract, mean that when Kimi leaves Ferrari or retires, Felipe will be ready to take the title in his own right.

Alianora writes for La Canta Magnifico.

Oliver White

8 comments

  • You know a lot about the sport! I can never pick up the subtle differences in driving style that you have picked up. Very nice article, you summed it up very nicely. One thing you mentioned that I don’t buy is Ferrari saying that they won’t favor Kimi over Massa. Unless Mass performs brilliantly right from the start of the season and is very very competitive, he’ll be made to play second fiddle. That is how it’s been in the Ferrari camp when Michael was there and now that Kimi has come in his place, Kimi is their main focus.

  • I think Ferrari will allow Massa to compete with Raikkonen to begin with. They did in 2007 until quite late in the season, although I do think Kimi will out perform Felipe again and the team will eventually put their efforts behind the Finn.

  • That’s my reading of it too, Oliver. In the Michael Schumacher days, Ferrari knew it had a driver of such talent that it could afford to put all its eggs in one basket and then optimise its team accordingly. Now, both of its drivers are too similar in skill level (mostly due to having better “number twos” to hand) for this certainty to work out. Kimi will probably be able to attract the majority of Ferrari’s attention, but only in the same way as other teams’ best drivers do so. For now – if Massa doesn’t put up a good showing this year, things may well change to the old No. 1/No. 2 scenario. And of course, if only one driver can take the championship, that driver will get all the attention!

  • I think that even after Kimi leaves (and that’s a long time from now I’m sure) Massa’s doomed to play second fiddle unless he can raise his game and become consistent. Ferrari will keep trucking in new faster-than-Massa drivers.

  • nice review, thanks!

    I feel Felipe needs to work on his own confidence. I think it’s more his moments of self doubt that hurt him, than any particular lack of driving skill.

    I am most looking forward to Piquet Jr, and Kimi fighting it out on track, that’s going to be a very interesting battle IMO.

  • Good analysis Alianora!

    While I agree that Kimi may be stronger this year having adapted successfully in Ferrari, with Bridgestones (and obviously qualifying andrace starts as a result), he could still be in for a difficult season. Thank goodness TC is gone, Kimi is better with out it and it’s a help to him in a sense. But Massa is going to struggle a lot in the races, and although he was superb in Silverstone and Fuji last year despite the grid and rain trouble, no TC means he’ll be even more inconsistant. As the season goes on, he will improve but it will be too late for him – and too late for Kimi. Kimi is going to have that McLaren on his tail and along with the others in Heikki occassionally and the BMWs and Renaults.

    It’s going to be tough, no matter what they say. But hey, I’m really excited and can’t wait!

    Keep flying Kimi! 😛

  • Well, after just two races it seems I was right about Massa!

    Do you guys think he can fight back again, just like he did at Bahrain last year? And do you feel that Ferrari may have to use Massa as a back up for Kimi from now on? I say give him till the middle of the season at least. Last year, they let Massa and Kimi race with no problem until it became mathematically impossible for Massa to win the title. Kimi’s race at Malaysia was his showing of a true champion, patient and mature. But I don’t think even he will settle yet for having his butt kissed by Massa.

  • Massa can fight back – but he needs to apply himself to driving smoother and more consistently if he wants that fight back to be successful. The fact that he does not appear to have Ferrari’s unconditional support at this time won’t help him. Ferrari won’t use Massa as Kimi’s No. 2 until it’s clear that Massa cannot challenge for the championship – but I suspect that if Massa is still clearly No. 2 by, say, race twelve of the season, that he may get the informal Ferrari No. 2 label permanently thereafter.

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